How to Handle a Missed Deadline
I’ve been self-employed for almost 4 years and never once had I missed a client deadline. However, last week I came uncomfortably close. So close, that I was prepping myself for the “we’re not gonna make it” speech. What was I to say? How was I to approach the client? There’s no doubt that they would be angry and even though I had been doing everything in my power to meet the timeline, it was looking grim.
Luckily, in the last second, I made the cut without time to spare. By this time, I had a whole plan worked out as to how I was going to approach a possibly difficult client situation. Instead of wasting my series of steps and never thinking about it again (hopefully…), I decided I’d turn it into a post. Truth be told, the first thing I did was jump on the Internet and run a search on, “how to handle missed deadlines.” I didn’t get much help and I kept thinking, “Why are there no better resources for this kind of thing? What am I supposed to say?”
Now, if you’re in the position I was in last week (and hopefully you aren’t), my prepared plan may serve as a resource for you.
1. Notify the Client
Probably the most difficult of all of these steps, but telling your client as soon as possible is a must. I probably should’ve told my client my worries early on. Luckily, it ended up working out, but I’m willing to bet this won’t always be the case. By telling your client you won’t make the deadline, they’ll be able to create a plan B. Of course admitting to them that the deadline won’t happen doesn’t mean that procrastination can begin. Do everything in your power to come as close to the deadline as possible while the client handles things on their end.
If the deadline was tight in the first place, or missed due to the client’s actions or interference, this may not apply. But if you committed to a deadline and missed it based on no fault but your own, it’s professional to admit your mistake and apologize sincerely. This is where good customer service comes into play. While there is little an apology can actually achieve, it does demonstrate good manners and an appreciation of the client’s needs at least.
3. Identify What Went Wrong
Show your client that a missed deadline won’t happen again. I was prepared to actually create a document containing a brief on what caused the missed deadline. By identifying these factors, we may be able to work around them and prevent them next time.
4. Create an Action Plan
Show your client how you intend to avoid these pitfalls next time around. Your dedication and take-charge approach to problem solving should prove to your client that you’re serious about your working relationship and don’t take missed deadlines lightly.
5. Don’t Let it Happen Again
There will always be unforeseen circumstances and random occurrences that could get in the way of meeting a deadline. Do your very best to ensure it’s met though. Don’t procrastinate, keep on top of your timelines and document your communication with your client. Two missed deadlines with the same client is likely a cause for designer-client relationship termination.